Yup, I said protests over donated seeds.
Well, (you might think): if these people are honestly convinced genetically engineered crops are dangerous (and clearly there are people in the world who really believe that) you can see how they’d react badly to feeling like they were be offered something that could harm their health, even (or perhaps especially) if it was being given freely as a gift.
Unfortunately even that rationalization isn’t any use here, since none of the donated seeds were genetically modified, as (almost) all the coverage eventually gets around to mentioning.
As far as I can tell at this late date the reasons people are upset boil down to three issues:
- The donated seeds were treated with several fungicides (mefenoxam, fludioxonil, and thiram*). I’ve read many people referring to the dangers of “toxic plants.” Seeds treated with pesticides don’t grow into plants that produce that pesticide themselves. The purpose of treating seeds with pesticides is #1 to kill any diseases/pests that might be hitch hiking on the seeds and #2 to protect seeds from fungus when they’re first planted in the ground, so more of them survive to germinate. Much of the writing on this subject seems to mix up the safety of planting seeds treated with a pesticide with the safety of working in fields that has been sprayed with the same pesticide, or, worst of all, the safety of being the one who actually sprays that pesticide. In this case it sounds like the main reason the seeds were treated was to avoid introducing new diseases and pests to the island of Hispaniola. Because really, the LAST thing Haitian agriculture needs is more potentially crop-failure causing problems.
- The seeds being donated are primarily hybrids so they won’t breed true in the second generation. Once more this tends to get transformed from, “if farmers plant the same seeds the second year, their yields will be lower than the year before”, to “Farmers won’t be able to replant seeds!” F2 seeds (the seeds produced by hybrid plants) are only 1/2 as hetrozygous as their parents so they don’t benefit as much from hybrid vigor. In the US, the increased money a farmer will earn from getting getting higher yield per acre with the full benefits of hybrid vigor usually outweigh the cost of buying new hybrid seed but there’s nothing inherently BAD about F2 seeds except that they’re just not as good as the F1s (first generation hybrid seeds).
- If Monsanto is inherently evil, then anything they do (for example donating seeds) is actually part of some evil ploy, even if we don’t know what it is yet. This is a question I can’t address with science, but gets into the distinction between being immoral and amoral. The someone who is immoral seeks to actively do evil, while someone who is amoral is indifferent to whether their actions are right or wrong. It’s easy to make a compelling argument that giant corporations are amoral, but it’s a mistake to assume they’re always actively attempting to do evil. (In this case I would image Monsanto thought they could get some good publicity out of their donation with either Haitian farmers or the Haitian government. Perhaps they’ll also benefit from tax write-offs or something similar. )
I’ve linked to what I’d consider a Huffington Post article above with a very clear agenda, so in the interest of balance, here’s what Monsanto is saying itself about the donation.
Updated Final Thoughts:
The one argument I’ve heard that might hold some water is that hybrid seeds might eventually out-compete local open pollinated varieties, and the genetic resource of locally adapted Haitian varieties of crops would be lost. However to make this argument one first has to admit hybrid seeds will have significant yield advantages so they’d actually be more competitive. I assume it’s the unwillingness to make that admission which is why most of the coverage I’ve read doesn’t touch on this issue. There are ways to combine introducing new improved crop varieties with preserving previous genetic diversity (seed banks!), but they require money and engagement, which is a lot more work than calling on hungry farmers to simply burn the seeds.
*This list comes to you at least third hand, and I needed to correct for at least one apparent typo in the previous source to figure out the active ingredients, so believe it at your own risk.